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Working classes turned on to hard drugs by cheap cocaine

Richard Ford, The Times, 27th May 2005

A HUGE increase in cocaine use was cited yesterday for the number of people on hard drugs in England and Wales rising to a record one million.

More than half a million people are now using Class A drugs every month and the number of young people using cocaine has more than doubled since 1998. Cocaine use has quadrupled since 1996 and the surge is being blamed on significant increases among people over 24, a Home Office survey said.

The study found that 755,000 people took cocaine in 2003-04, 16 per cent more than the previous year and a 295 per cent increase on the figure in 1996. Drug charities said the rise was because of a flood of cheap cocaine on the market.

The charity Drugscope said that the typical price per gram had fallen from £70 to £40 over a decade. “The increase in Class A drug use is worrying and we cannot afford to be complacent about the continued popularity of cocaine,” a statement from the charity said. The drug was previously the preserve of high-earning showbusiness personalities, but is now being used by young professionals as a recreational drug.

The study found, however, that cocaine users were more likely to be semi-skilled or skilled manual workers than members of the professional classes. The results of the British Crime Survey found that 3.85 million people aged 16 to 59 had used an illegal drug in the past year.

The survey interviewed 26,000 people aged 16 to 59 throughout England and Wales. It is estimated that 11 million people in the same age range have tried a drug in their lifetime. The most common age at which 16 to 24-year-olds said that they started taking drugs is 16.

Almost a quarter of 16 to 24- year-olds admitted using Class A drugs more than once a month and 46 per cent said that they used any illegal drug as frequently. Overall hard drug use has risen by one third since 1996, bad news for the Government, whose policy is targeted at the use of Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine because they cause the most damage.

Cannabis remains the drug most likely to be used and almost one quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds had used it in the past year. The survey found that cannabis use among 16 to 59-year-olds had remained largely stable since 1998 and fell between 2002-03 and 2003-04. The percentage of 16 to 24-year-olds using cannabis has fallen. London had the highest rate of overall drug use and hard drug use in particular. The lowest level of hard drug use was in the East and West Midlands. Highest drug use was found in areas where affluent urbanites lived or in metropolitan areas populated by prosperous professionals.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the figures showed that the Government’s drugs policy had failed.

Paul Goggins, the Drugs Minister, said that the strategy was delivering differences in communities in England and Wales. He said that record levels of drugs had been seized and that 54 per cent more drug users were in treatment than in 1998. He said: “We are well on track to reach our target of directing 1,000 drug-misusing offenders a week into treatment by 2008. Treatment works, and it is no coincidence that as drug treatment programmes have expanded, drug-related crimes such as theft and burglary recorded by the police have fallen significantly.

“Over the next year we will be rolling out tough new powers from the Drugs Act to enable the police and courts to put more drug dealers behind bars and get more drug misusing offenders into treatment.”

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